We at the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center stand poised on the precipice of a great transition. I want to first and foremost thank Jacob (Flowers) for ten years of outstanding service and leadership to this organization and to our entire community here in Memphis.
Under Jacob's stewardship, the MSPJC has grown and evolved, producing an incredible body of work rooted in our most deeply-held principles. His work has connected global oppression to local injustice, asking us to focus not only on those that suffer overseas, but also those that suffer right next door. Beyond this, Jacob's leadership allowed us to build a "people's organization" with an amazing and diverse staff aided by one of the strongest board of directors this organization has ever had.
Over the past six years it has been my pleasure and honor to serve alongside Jacob as Organizing Director and with your help, we have made great strides towards a more equitable community. Local issues like environmental justice, homelessness, and public transit have become cornerstones of the MSPJC, as evidenced by grassroots movements like GrowMemphis, H.O.P.E., and the Memphis Bus Riders Union. The Gandhi-King conference has developed into a major event and our training department has provided resources and mentoring to foster leadership and build our base of local activists winning real victories for their communities.
Four years ago, when serving on the Memphis & Shelby County Metropolitan Charter Commission to consolidate city and county governments, there were numerous issues that we were facing in terms of the long-term benefit for our city. The divide that existed on these issues stemmed mainly from our resistance to change, and it didn't matter what logic, math, or business sense told us to do differently.
We took solace in holding on to what we've got with the attitude that ignored the trend lines. To have a buy-and-hold mentality when your stock is falling, has been on persistent decline, and is in an industry that is being eliminated, creates financial suicide.
One such issue that we forecasted on the Charter Commission was the City of Memphis pension plan. We made a forecast on the direction of our pension, and unfortunately, four years later this prediction has come true.
Black women constantly complain about the dearth of "eligible" black men to date and marry. Noted sociologist William Julius Wilson has argued that "the increasing levels of non-marriage and female-headed households is a manifestation of the high levels of economic dislocation experienced by lower-class black men in recent decades."
He further argued that, "When joblessness is combined with high rates of incarceration and premature mortality among black men; it becomes clearer that there are fewer marriageable black men relative to black women who are able to provide the economic support needed to sustain a family."
Then you add in the unfortunate increase in homosexuality within the black community and you have a recipe for disaster.
It often seems that Memorial Day was invented by manufacturers of outdoor cooking supplies, and for many Americans – if not most of them – the last Monday in May is only about gathering the family for a barbecue.
There's nothing wrong, of course, with enjoying the company of people we love in a bucolic and relaxing atmosphere, but it comes as a shock to many people that the holiday's purpose is to force us to remember the sacrifice of Americans who died for our liberty.
The first Memorial Day was, as Yale Professor David Blight observed, actually created in Charleston, South Carolina, by "Black Americans recently freed from slavery, announcing to the world...what the war was about."
Campaign season (which one could argue is endless) is always ubiquitous and duplicitous for me as a pastor. These moments are joyous; making ministry real! Election cycles remind us that those who have a theology or faith-based-belief that does not take into account political developments and social realities have signed a promissory note to ministerial irrelevance. Those who serve in the pastorate must constantly be mindful of how legislation and the appropriation of resources impact those who we are called to serve at a grassroots, neighborhood and living room level.
These same moments are frustrating. The tension rests in the requirement pastors have to calculate the best way to exert our pastoral influence. It has been common place for pastors to publicly endorse candidates directly and indirectly. This is commendable when it has been done through a thorough deliberation and discernment process and not merely to score points in the game of ministerial and political opportunism.
Because I was a horribly ill-behaved child, I found myself shipped from San Francisco to Moss Point, Miss. in August 1969. My mother's plan was that I'd spend my junior year in high school there and live with my schoolteacher aunt, Annie Mae Randall, who was somewhat affectionately known as the "kid breaker."
It was legend that if you did not understand rules, she would beat them into you, but her method was unlimited interrogation, not physical correction (much). In any case, I landed in Moss Point 15 years after the Supreme Court ruled that legal segregation was illegal.
However, by ruling that the Brown decision should be implemented with "all deliberate speed," many towns in Mississippi saw this as a signal to "take your own sweet time." I ended up attending all-black Magnolia High School, while the all-white Moss Point High School was in rather close proximity. A year later, Magnolia became the town's junior high school, and Moss Point High was the school for everyone.